Some takeaways from Tuesday's Republican presidential primary in Illinois:
ROMNEY STAYED ON TOP
Mitt Romney notched another victory in a big, industrial Midwestern state _ and the front-runner did it by leveraging all of his advantages. He overwhelmed rival Rick Santorum with TV ads; he and his allies spent $3.5 million to $500,000, an advantage of 7-1 over Santorum. His superior organization made him eligible for all of the state's 54 delegates, while Santorum missed out on at least 10 because he didn't file the right paperwork. And Romney looked ahead to the general election, giving a victory speech squarely focused on Democratic President Barack Obama.
SANTORUM MADE MISTAKES
It's been a rough few days for the former Pennsylvania senator. On Tuesday, he was forced to distance himself from an earlier comment suggesting he didn't care about the country's unemployment rate. Over the weekend in Puerto Rico, he had to repeatedly explain his position on whether islanders would have to speak English if they want to become a U.S. state. And he had to answer questions about a fiery pastor who introduced him at a church service in Louisiana while suggesting that America is a Christian nation. Next up is Louisiana's primary Saturday, where Santorum will need a big win if he hopes to press forward.
THE GENERAL ELECTION HAS BEGUN
As Republicans in Obama's home state voted to choose the Democrat's general election opponent, Romney pledged to work across the partisan aisle _ or "die trying." It was his most direct appeal yet to the independent voters who will decide the fall election. And it's a shift away from the red-meat rhetoric that appeals to the conservative GOP base. With the Illinois win, Romney further solidified his status as the likely Republican nominee. Santorum has fewer chances to derail him. While he'll still face challenges in some Southern states, Romney's win means his campaign is rolling along toward the eventual victory his advisers have predicted all along.
DELEGATE RACE CONTINUES
The Illinois primary helped Romney advance in what appears to be an inexorable march to the 1,144 delegates he'll need to secure the nomination at the Republican National Convention in August. He won at least 19 delegates in Illinois, with 35 of the total 54 still to be determined. Santorum lost out on 10 delegates because his team botched paperwork. The former Pennsylvania senator faces an uphill climb in the delegate race: Romney has 541 while Santorum had 253, according to the Associated Press tally. At his current pace, Romney will accumulate the delegates he needs to wrap up the nomination in June.
HIGH INCOME, EDUCATED VOTERS LIKE ROMNEY
Romney won in Illinois with support from people with more education and higher incomes _ and from those whose top priority is defeating Obama in November. Romney doubled his margin over Santorum among voters with college degrees, according to early exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks. He won 20 percent of the vote among those who said electability _ being able to win in November _ was the most important consideration. But Romney was still weak among those who say they are "very conservative" _ Santorum had a double-digit lead in that group.
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